Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#1,059. Roller Boogie (1979)

Directed By: Mark L. Lester

Starring: Linda Blair, Jim Bray, Beverly Garland

Tag line: "It's love on wheels!"

Trivia: Around three hundred roller skaters auditioned for this movie

After 10 minutes of 1979’s Roller Boogie, you’ll be asking yourself what evil force possessed Linda Blair to appear in this movie, and why didn’t Max von Sydow banish that demon to hell?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the Exorcist reference. But all kidding aside, Roller Boogie really does suck.

Teenager Terry Barkley (Linda Blair) is a musical prodigy, and her wealthy parents (Roger Perry and Beverly Garland) plan to ship her off to Julliard in the fall. But what they don’t know is that Terry would much rather lace up a pair of skates and hang around a Venice Beach roller rink. It’s there that she meets Bobby James (Jim Bray), a skater from the wrong side of the tracks who’s training for the Olympics. Hoping to improve her own skating, Terry hires Bobby to teach her the ropes, and after a few lessons, the two fall madly in love. But the good times soon come to an end when a shady mobster (Mark Goddard) buys the roller rink, which he intends to tear down to make way for a new shopping mall. Can Terry and Bobby work together to save the rink, and with it the Annual Roller Boogie contest, or will corruption and greed win out in the end?

From the opening scene of Roller Boogie, a musical number in which dozens of skaters “dance” around the streets of Venice, I knew I was in trouble. The problem was that the sequence, clearly designed to start the movie off with a bang, had absolutely no energy. To me, it felt like a bunch of people on skates waving their arms about, trying to make it look as if they were dancing. Even the grand finale, where Bobby James weaves his way through some soda cans placed strategically in the middle of the road, was weak.

Next, it’s off to the Barkley mansion, where Linda Blair’s Terry is dressing for the day. We watch as she chooses her outfit (a pair of shorts and a T-shirt) and adds a few matching accessories. Her bedroom screams the ‘70s, with a picture of Shawn Cassidy on the mirror and posters of the Bee Gees and Miss Piggy hanging on the wall. But what struck me was how bored Linda Blair looked. I realize that getting dressed isn’t the most exhilarating activity, yet judging from the indifference in her eyes and the manner in which she carried herself, I got the distinct feeling Ms. Blair wasn’t giving it her all.

Fortunately, these two scenes lasted only ten minutes, leaving Roller Boogie with about an hour and half to redeem itself. Well, it didn’t; the entire film was as flat as the opening. Most depressing of all were the various skate routines, which were lifeless and bland. Whether the problem was the uninspired direction of Mark Lester or the simple fact that roller dancing isn’t very much fun to watch, I can’t say. I only know these musical numbers were a real struggle to get through. Equally as bad were the performances of the two leads. Jim Bray had neither the physical build nor the acting chops to play a main character in a major motion picture, which is obvious in just about every scene he’s in. Actually, I felt a little sorry for him; originally hired as a skating stand-in, Bray, who had no acting experience, was bumped up to the lead role when the producers couldn’t find anyone to take the part. So, in a way, his complete incompetence came as no surprise. As for Linda Blair, who appeared in a number of films prior to Roller Boogie, she had no excuse whatsoever, and at times, was even worse than Bray.

Mentioned in John Wilson’s The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the worst pictures ever made, Roller Boogie does have a “so bad it’s good” vibe to it, and might be a fun watch if you’re surrounded by good friends and plenty of beer. But take my advice: you’re gonna need a few extra six packs to make it through this one!

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